Bush plays it safe with VP pick

Cheney is loyal and adds gravitas, but also creates all-Texas, all-oil ticket with ties to dad.

The first rule in selecting a presidential running mate is "do no harm."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush appears to have done that in his selection of former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney to join him on the Republican ticket - a conservative man of modest demeanor, known for his loyalty, integrity, and intelligence.

Mr. Cheney, who also served 10 years as a congressman from Wyoming and was chief of staff under President Ford, rounds out the profile of the GOP presidential slate. While Governor Bush can highlight his outsider status and his executive experience running a large state, Cheney knows his way around Washington, from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon to the Oval Office. He has the defense and foreign-policy background that Bush lacks.

Cheney also, like Bush, has experience in the oil industry, as chief executive of Halliburton Co., an oil-industry firm based in Dallas. It is thus an all-oil, all-Texas ticket, though Cheney just last week reestablished his voter registration in Wyoming.

But Bush clearly wasn't thinking geography or electoral votes (Wyoming has three) when he selected Cheney. All along, Bush has said he wanted a running mate who was loyal and who liked him, and when Bush selected Cheney to run his search, he discovered he had found his man.

"It's a good, safe choice that conveys something positive for Bush," says Stu Rothenberg, editor of a political newsletter. "Cheney is a solid citizen, conservative in views, moderate in style, with big experience."

Still, say Mr. Rothenberg and other analysts, by making a safe, uncharismatic selection, Bush is signaling that he thinks he's already got the edge to win - that he didn't need to make a bold choice to boost his ticket.

That leaves the field open to Vice President Gore, who can try to shake up a sleeping electorate by putting a woman or a minority on the ticket, or play it safe like Bush. If he wants to match Cheney on the gravitas meter, he could go for former Sen. George Mitchell of Maine, who is reportedly high on Gore's veep list.

Gore may also decide to play electoral politics, by putting a Democrat from a key battleground state - such as Florida Sen. Bob Graham - on the ticket.

Democrats, for their part, are almost gleeful at the selection of Cheney. It means they won't face a real blockbuster choice, such as former Gen. Colin Powell, or Sen. John McCain of Arizona, both of whom would have added national firepower and wide public appeal to the GOP ticket. Both men said they didn't want the position.

Democrats also are expected to try to turn Cheney's selection into a liability: The former Pentagon chief is a member of Bush's father's inner circle, fueling the impression that George W. is leaning on his father's legacy and connections. Many of the elder Bush's advisers have become advisers to the son, such as foreign-policy specialist Condoleeza Rice and former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Bush and Cheney will also likely have to contend with discussion of Cheney's health, which has been a problem in the past. Top Bush campaign officials, as well as physicians, have sought to assure the public that Cheney is in fine health.

In selecting Cheney, Bush has laid to rest the question of whether he will put a supporter of abortion rights on the ticket.

Cheney has a solid record of voting against abortion rights, though he is on record as welcoming people of all views on abortion into the Republican Party.

Abortion isn't expected to figure high in most voters' selections this fall, but by going for an anti-abortion running mate like himself, Bush ensures that the Republican base will not rear up and fight him - or stay home in November. When the Republicans convene their convention in Philadelphia July 31, they will have all the pieces in place to present a picture of unity.

And if nothing else, Bush may be showing that he learned the lesson of his father's first big mistake in his own presidency - selecting a running mate, then-Sen. Dan Quayle - who appeared young and inexperienced and detracted from the senior Bush's own qualifications. While Bush won the White House in 1988, he considered dropping Mr. Quayle from the ticket in 1992 - and went on to lose to Bill Clinton.

By selecting a running mate who's a bit than older than baby-boomers Clinton, Gore, or the younger Bush, Cheney's selection signals to the public that "the grownups are back."

And even though he's viewed as a safe selection, he could also have some appeal to the crucial middle of the electorate - the independents and undecideds who decide every election, says nonpartisan pollster Del Ali.

"It attracts them from the experience standpoint," says Mr. Ali. "You might not agree with him on everything, but you respect the fact that he knows how the world works and how Washington works."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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